NEW YORK U.S. Steel Corp. has temporarily curtailed its blast furnaces and steelmaking operations at its Gary Works in northwest Indiana following "unforeseen" and "unprecedented" ice conditions on the Great Lakes that have delayed the transportation of critical raw materials.
"These severe ice conditions have not occurred on the Great Lakes for more than three decades," the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker said in an April 2 letter to customers. "Unfortunately, passage has been prevented due to the ice conditions on the Great Lakes, which we hope will quickly improve as a result of recent warming temperatures. As a result of this contingency, it is possible that our ability to timely fulfill your orders will be temporarily impacted."
The company said it has been working closely with U.S. and Canadian governmental authorities to expedite and obtain priority passage for its raw material vessels.
Other integrated steelmakers in the region also were said to be experiencing raw material supply issues due to the ice conditions, sources said, which has been a contributing factor to major shipment delays.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Steel could not be reached for comment on details of the ice conditions.
The announcement came less than a week after U.S. Steels Great Lakes Works in Ecorse, Mich., suffered an unplanned outage when the roof collapsed on one of its basic oxygen process shops (amm.com, March 28).
"Things are tight, especially for the integrateds," one Midwest service center source said. "Basically, all the furnaces near Lake Michigan are starving for iron ore, and I understand the ice breakers are clearing the way, but obviously its not fast enough."
There are currently nine U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers dedicated to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. There also are two Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers in the area, down from seven Canadian vessels that were in service on the Great Lakes and Seaway some 20 years ago.
This year, as winter conditions worsened, Canada brought in a third vessel to help with icebreaking, but any advantage that ship would have brought was lost when two U.S. ships were taken out of service for maintenance issues.
Several market participants reasoned that the two recent incidents at U.S. Steel would further push steelmakers to increase prices (amm.com, April 3).
Gary Works, which sits on the south shore of Lake Michigan, is U.S. Steels largest manufacturing plant, according to its website. It has an annual raw steel making capability of 7.5 million tons and also operates three coke batteries with an annual production capability of 1.3 million tons. The facility produces several sheet products, as well as plate products and tin products for the automotive, metal building components, home construction and appliance markets.